Tim Kaine seen as potential fence-mender between running mate Hillary Clinton and Republicans

Tim Kaine, 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee, speaks during an event conducted entirely in Spanish in Phoenix, Arizona on Nov 3, 2016.
Tim Kaine, 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee, speaks during an event conducted entirely in Spanish in Phoenix, Arizona on Nov 3, 2016.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

THE RUNNING MATES: Mike Pence could become the bridge between a President Trump and his own partymen after an election that has caused a rift within the Republican Party. Tim Kaine would be the man to help a President Clinton ford the gap with Republicans to further her agenda in Congress. The Straits Times' Paul Zach looks at the two men vying to be the next US vice-president, and how they each could help put their candidate on top on Nov 8.

CLEVELAND, OHIO – Democrat Tim Kaine may not come across as poised or as polished as the Republican candidate for vice-president Mike Pence, but he has brought more of a common man quality to the campaign than anyone in either camp.

And given the animosity that has grown between Mrs Hillary Clinton and Mr Donald Trump over the course of the campaign, Mr Kaine is also seen as a possible fence-mender between her and Republicans should she win the presidency and have to deal with a Senate and House divided for at least four years. 

Mr Kaine has a  lot in common with Mr Pence. At 1.8m and 58, he is just a little shorter and a year older than his Republican counterpart. He also hails from a Catholic family with largely Irish roots and is also a lawyer and former governor. 

There the similarities end, however. Mr Kaine has remained a devout Catholic and Democrat and, in contrast to Mr Pence who represents the Republican Party’s far right wing, he is seen as a moderate on everything from fiscal policy to free trade. 

In fact, his vote for speedy approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership by the US, the trade pact negotiated with Singapore and 10 other nations, drew criticism from the grassroots Progressive Change Campaign Committee. 

As The New Yorker noted, Mr Kaine brings numerous strengths that could help swing more voters Mrs Clinton’s way: “He comes from a swing state. He speaks fluent Spanish. He has strong ties to the African-American community, which date back to his days as a civil rights lawyer and then as the mayor of Richmond, where about half of the population is black. And Kaine is the son of a welder who ran a shop in Kansas City, Missouri, so he has some understanding of the concerns of white working-class voters.” 

Last month, in the vice-presidential debate, however, Mr Kaine’s attempt to be feisty with the smooth-talking Mr Pence came off as snippy instead, leading to the consensus that he was the loser.

Otherwise, he has steered free of controversy in his career as well as the campaign, and in his spare time relaxes by playing harmonica in a band called the Jugbusters. During an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press TV show, he described himself as “boring”.

Born Timothy Michael Kaine in St Paul, Minnesota , he grew up in Kansas and earned his law degree from Harvard Law School, and, in 1980, worked with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras, where he learned to speak Spanish. He then spent 20 years as an attorney focused on civil rights. 

His political career began in 1994 when he won a seat on the city council of Richmond, the capital of Virginia. He later became its mayor.

His election as the state’s lieutenant-governor in 2001 set the stage for him winning the governor’s post in 2005, in a state that had been reliably Republican in presidential elections until President Barack Obama won it twice. 

After one four-year term in Virginia’s top state post, Mr Kaine was elected to the US Senate in 2012. He made an immediate impression in his first year in office when, during discussion on immigration in the Capitol building, he delivered his speech in a way no Senator ever had before, in Spanish.

He explained that it was the language spoken by some 40 million Americans “who have a lot at stake in the outcome of this debate”.

They also have a major stake in the outcome of the presidential election – and early voting shows Mrs Clinton may have made a wise choice.

The New York Times noted on Sunday (Nov 6) that Hispanic voters in key states, most notably Florida, surged to cast their ballots in the final days of early voting this weekend – a demonstration of political power that has lifted her presidential hopes.